Humor me for a moment and close your eyes—seriously. No matter where you are in your medical training or practice, try envisioning yourself before the responsibility of being an attending, before the years of medical training, before the decade of education, and ask yourself two simple questions. Are you the person you were before all this? Are you the person you want to be?
I will share that for me I recently came to the realization that the answer to these two questions was ‘No’. My answers have nothing to do with my choice to become a surgeon or the job I currently have—both of which bring me great satisfaction. Nor are my answers irrevocable. But, it has taken me two years into my faculty position to realize the answers to these questions and, more importantly, to see the way to change them.
Once upon a time I liked reading for enjoyment. I’m neither referring to the behemoth texts I’d become accustomed to immersing myself in to prepare for the next in-service or American Board of Surgery exam nor the stack of journals (now as high as my mid-thigh) that sit in my office. I’m talking about many and varied literary works. For example, books written by W. Somerset Maugham or Wine Spectator (OK, so I used the term ‘literary work’ loosely). Until recently though, I couldn’t remember the last book or magazine I read for fun. As another example, I used to enjoy playing guitar. But, I can’t tell you last time I picked up my Takamine or Gibson and just messed around.
No one explicitly told or warned me of this along the way. Reflecting back now though, I can recall hearing hints of it here and there. So, I’m going to say this plainly in the way I wish someone had told it to me: Many of us become so accustomed to sacrificing on the things that put the ‘I’ in ‘me’, that eventually it is easy to just let them go altogether. During residency, the last case of the day would finish late, I’d be tired, and still have to prepare for tomorrow so I’d allow myself to skip the gym today or wait until tomorrow to worry about doing any of the many recreational things I once enjoyed. And then today turns into tomorrow, and the next day, and then unbelievably nearly a decade has passed.
We become so encumbered by the abnormality of the life we live in residency and fellowship, over time the abnormal slowly becomes normal. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. I don’t have medical school, residency, and fellowship to do over again (and trust me when I say I don’t want to), so I’m starting to try to find the pieces of the old me I’ve strewn over the last 15 years. And I hope by working toward changing the answer to that first question, the second will follow in turn.
Much ado is made about the inhumanity of surgical training. But, if I’m being honest with myself and we with each other, some of that inhumanity visited upon the ‘I’ in all of us comes from ourselves.